Daryl Sykes outlines the commitment to good science that has been a hallmark of the New Zealand rock lobster industry for decades.

In previous lobster fisheries articles there has been consistent emphasis on the very strong notion that “we cannot manage what we do not know”. This is shown to be demonstrably true when it comes to the impacts and extent of recreational fishing and fish thieving on inshore resources.

The first re-opening of the post-earthquake Kaikoura paua fishery was a sad lesson. It is an unfortunate fact of life that the only collective of fisheries ‘stakeholders’ able to demonstrate useful organisation, discipline and accountability are the commercial stakeholders. There have been some promising developments within the customary fisheries sector but still work to be done there. By way of contrast, the recreational sector is effectively unmanaged, not consistently accountable, and generally not collaborative. The lack of any timely and accurate non-commercial (including illegal) catch data has been a fundamental weakness that has always existed in rock lobster fisheries management but which is particularly acute in circumstances where catch and effort data are essential to stock assessments.

Increasingly in other fisheries management jurisdictions the importance of all catch and effort data – commercial and non-commercial – is being actively pursued; and even within the New Zealand recreational fishing sector, the more strategic and enlightened representative groups are now taking their own initiatives to develop useful data. There are lessons for them and for fisheries managers in the experience of the New Zealand rock lobster industry, which over several

decades has both initiated and/or contributed to a significant body of research and data collection. Industry generated data are underpinning annual sustainability decisions and more strategic research planning efforts.

The rock lobster industry investment in research and science is primarily directed at informing TAC and management decisions.

The secondary function of industry research is to inform industry harvest initiatives – the industry-agreed and implemented management interventions which enable best use of the TACClimited fishing opportunity. “Best use” generally being defined by an economic performance benchmark. There is an added dimension of investment that reinforces the reputation of the industry as responsible stewards of an important economic, social and cultural resource. It is in that work that the industry finds a useful balance between the need to know and nice to know.

A fundamental consideration for industry when contemplating research investments is the legislative and regulatory framework in which they transact the business of fishing. A further consideration is the catch-sharing arrangement implicit in the TAC/TACC setting process. It is no easy task to achieve regulatory amendments and/ or pragmatic operational policies when dealing with the Ministry for Primary Industries. Ministerial decisions are principally informed by advice from ministry officials. Industry representation and advocacy supported by good science offers a credible balance to such advice.

Rock lobster fisheries are regarded as discrete units for management purposes – and the current management regime is as much reliant on various input controls as it is on the primary output control of the TAC. The scale at which TAC and sustainability decisions are made for the lobster fisheries is at the scale of the stock – of which there are nine for red rock lobsters (CRA) and one for packhorse (PHC). The scale at which the interactions between commercial and non-commercial participants are negotiated or contested is generally much smaller (local rather than regional).

Social media opinion and commentary on rock lobster fisheries are most often inaccurate and poorly informed. Industry representatives work in the real world of the Fisheries Act – the purposes and principles of which can be summarised as “enabling utilisation whilst ensuring sustainability”. That is core business. The ministry responsible for fisheries ensures that the act has various systems and processes in support of those intended outcomes – admittedly not all of them cost-effective or efficient, but nonetheless they exist and industry is committed to participating where it is able to. The discipline and accountability of those ministry processes creates the obligation to bring timely and credible information and analyses to the various working groups.

Industry investments in data collection technologies and catching sector support for their use have contributed to a very extensive stock monitoring data base now routinely used to inform stock assessments and in the application of operational policies. There are several post-harvest research initiatives, including a Biotoxin Management Plan for rock lobster fisheries, and the rock lobster industry facilitated research in regard to shell infections in wild stocks and commissioned and co-funded the first DNA characterisation done for a New Zealand marine species. The WhaleSafe programme is another ongoing industry initiative backed by extensive research.

The NZ RLIC Statement of Intent (SOI) offers guidance and insight to industry attitudes towards the lobster fisheries, non-commercial stakeholders, and agencies. For example – and to paraphrase one section of the SOI – To ensure all legitimate extractive users has fair and equitable access etc …

The objective is supported by industry policy in relation to optimal stock sizes – seeking to maintain levels of abundance in excess of statutory minima – but is routinely confounded by the lack of a properly completed rights-based framework, the unfortunate dichotomy of commercial and customary rights, and the absence of timely and accurate non-commercial catch and effort data for use in stock assessments and management decision making.

The SOI also sets the objective for the industry to manage and control commercial harvests etc … That statement has been and is supported by a range of industry initiatives (mostly voluntary) including operational management procedures determining commercial harvest limits within gazetted TACCs; time and/or area closures imposed to ‘refresh’ and/or replenish stock abundance or to avoid lesser quality/ value lobsters at certain stages in life cycle. More sophisticated initiatives such as bio-economic modelling of management options related to sub-division and/or amalgamation of existing rock lobster fisheries management areas have also been explored.

The rock lobster industry regards all research as an investment. We have never been persuaded to give preference to the nice to know research as opposed to the need to know. Research that informs and guides management decision making within the context of the Fisheries Act is well supported and significantly funded by industry. The core components are stock monitoring and stock assessment. Those components determine our stake in a shared resource and also ensure the quality of our stake, and by default the quality of noncommercial interests in the lobster fisheries.

New Zealand rock lobster fisheries do not have a research deficit – they do have information deficits but these exist more as a consequence of government policies and societal preferences. The industry is prepared to invest in more than the core research activities so long as the research is directed at value-adding opportunities (which may even arise from efficiency gains in the situation where ‘less is more’ in terms of overall levels of commercial removals from lobster fisheries).


• To ensure that all legitimate extractive users have fair and equitable access to rock lobster fisheries and fishing grounds. 

• To manage and control commercial harvests within the constraints of the Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC) and the provisions of the Fisheries legislation. 

• To maximise the economic and social benefits able to be derived by the industry from the available harvesting opportunities. 

• To respect and protect the rights of individuals whilst acknowledging individual and collective responsibilities and obligations.

Industry has a longstanding commitment to the quality of fishing rather than the quantity of fishing and there may well be new opportunities that can be pursued with skilled service providers when we identify them. The challenges of implementing what are referred to as ecosystem based approaches to managing fisheries are progressively being addressed – but that is a story for a future edition of The Fishing Paper.

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